UN begins shipping aid for Gaza to Egypt amid uncertainty

The United Nations says it needs guarantees and security before it can stockpile significant amounts of aid at the Rafah crossing.  

Civil defense teams and residents launch a search and rescue operation around the rubbles of destroyed buildings
Civil defence teams and residents launch a search-and-rescue operation amid the rubble of destroyed buildings in Gaza [Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu via Getty Images]

More than a week since Israel began a relentless bombardment of Gaza, desperately-needed supplies have yet to be allowed into the besieged Palestinian enclave amid warnings of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Hopes of a temporary ceasefire between Israel and Hamas on Monday to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid through the Rafah border crossing in Egypt were dashed as Cairo reported unfruitful talks with Israel, which has the authority to halt supplies across the border.

Despite the uncertainty, at least eight planes carrying aid from Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Tunisia have landed in Sinai’s El Arish airport in recent days and a convoy of more than 100 trucks, according to the Egyptian Red Crescent.

United Nations agencies have also begun pre-positioning life-saving stocks including food and medical supplies at the border point, the only passage in and out of the Gaza Strip not entirely controlled by Israel.

The World Health Organization on Sunday flew in 78 cubic metres of essential medical supplies through the El Arish airport, enough for 300 000 persons. Two planes carrying supplies from the World Food Programme landed on Sunday and Monday from Dubai, containing 20 tonnes of high-energy biscuits and two mobile storage units.

More aid was expected to reach the border area from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Monday and Wednesday, including bottled water, water purifiers, tablets, blankets, hygiene kits, and other medical and health supplies.

“It is unclear when the borders will open. Assistance is piling up at the border while people who are a few kilometres away are desperate for it and going hungry,” WFP spokesperson Abeer Etefa told Al Jazeera.

“The existing supplies within Gaza are nearing depletion, making it imperative to facilitate the delivery of critical assistance and avert the further deterioration of an already dire situation.”

Israel has imposed a “complete siege” on Gaza, saying that no electricity, water of fuel would be allowed into the territory, after fighters from Hamas launched a brutal attack on southern Israel from the enclave on October 7. At least 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the Hamas attack, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel has since pounded the territory from the air, killing at least 2,808 people and wounding 10,859 others, according to Palestinian authorities.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said it had since lost all ability to take aid into Israel.

“UNRWA normally has its fly line to Israel and we are not allowed to do that,” a spokesperson for the agency said.

Lynn Hastings, the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, said on Sunday that the Israeli authorities linked humanitarian assistance with the release of the hostages held by Hamas.

“They have said they want to destroy Hamas, but their current trajectory is going to destroy Gaza,” Hastings told UN News.

Egypt has refused entry to its territory to an unknown number of Gaza’s dual-nationality citizens, making it clear that their exit depended on Israel allowing the passage of the aid convoy into the enclave.

Amid the impasse, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said it needed guarantees and security before it could stockpile significant amounts of aid at the border.

“We hear reports that the border crossing is open, and then we hear that it’s not. And we need clarity on that before we can send huge amounts of aid from various stockpiles in the region,” Jans Laerke, OCHA spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s massively expensive to fly aid around the world and we have extremely limited resources, so we are not going to put aid in a place where it gets stocked for days or weeks. We need to have some clarity that it’s going to be of use.”

More than two million people in Gaza have been under siege for more than a week, amid reports that fuel, medicines and drinkable water were running out. The WHO warned on Monday that there are only “24 hours of water, electricity and fuel left” on the besieged Gaza Strip.

After being deprived of essential supplies due to an Israeli blockade and with stocks of water dwindling, hospitals are on the verge of collapse.

Despite the dire humanitarian situation, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not cooperate with efforts to deliver aid into Gaza. “There is currently no ceasefire and humanitarian aid in Gaza in return for removing foreigners,” his office said in a statement on Monday.

UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths has said that he will travel to the Middle East on Tuesday for negotiations over aid to Gaza, adding that he hoped for “good news”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies